“We were here when this lovely building burnt to the ground. This is a mini-miracle and the Minister coming is the icing on the cake.”
Those were the words of Donall Mac An Bheatha, Senior Planner with Longford County Council, as he, and a group of others involved in the St Mel’s Cathedral restoration, welcomed Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD to the iconic building last Friday.
While there, Minister Deenihan received a tour of the Cathedral, where he saw the incredible work that has been carried out. So far, the restoration is on track to open on Christmas Eve. The barrell vault ceiling is complete, with most of it lime-washed. Some of the beautiful new Stations of the Cross are also in place and even the seats have been chosen.
The biggest restoration of a Cathedral in Ireland, Chairperson of the Restoration Project Committee, Cllr Seamus Butler admitted that it has been a ‘labour of love’.
“Coming to this stage, all of us in the committee are so enthused,” he continued.
Adding that it will still be recognisable as St Mel’s Cathedral, Cllr Butler stated, “We used the opportunity to make the improvements that would probably never be done.”
With just six months until RTÉ broadcast Mass live from the Cathedral on Christmas Eve, the County Councillor said that all involved have set themselves a ‘difficult task’. With a lot of work done, but more to do, he concluded, “We put down that we wanted a functioning Cathedral for the fifth anniversary of the fire and we’re on track to do that.”
Offering his thanks to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for the grant they awarded to the project, Fr Tom Healy admitted that the deadline was “exciting and terrifying in equal measures”.
“It’s really exciting to be this far but I know there’s a really busy 6-8 months ahead,” Fr Healy continued, extending thanks to all who have supported the project.
Highly impressed with what he saw, Minister Deenihan stated, “First of all it’s an extraordinary achievement to have a full restoration project carried out in such a short space of time.”
Commending the committees involved, the Church, the insurance company and his own Department for creating ‘something very special’, the Minister likened the fire at the Cathedral to ‘the loss of a family member’ for the people of Longford, adding; “What was a major disaster for the people of Longford will now turn into something very, very positive.”